Is Food Affecting Your Yoga Practice?

My 13-year-old self came to yoga to be transported to another world, where the worries of this one faded away. Yeah, right.

Yoga, for me, was always unattainable but something I longed to be a part of. Images of kindhearted people with a serene calm filled my head and I wanted to be one. I was sick with digestive pain all of my life, and I consistently felt defeated every time I hit the mat. I couldn't bend in the most beginner poses and my mind wouldn't quiet. When practicing you should be in the state of mind where everyone disappears and it's just you, your breath, your limbs; but that was a grasp too far out of reach for me. I was impatient, I was jittery, I was stiff. I couldn't breathe with my poses, my nose was always stuffy, and my lungs were asthmatic. Eventually the mat I bought with my allowance ended up collecting dust in the back of my closet, along with all the promise it held for me.

Now weights were something I could do. Fast, hard movements, quick and strained breaths, these were fitting for my competitive spirit and borderline hyperactivity. Yoga still remained the epitome of graceful and quiet strength, but I simply wrote it off as “not for me”. After all, I was clumsy, awkward, and had bunion feet!

My yoga mat remained in the corner for the next few years, till I felt the itch to try it again. I had recently requested a test for Celiac disease from my doctor, but was declined, as I "would be a lot sicker if I did have it" (which I later found out isn’t actually true). Well it seems the universe heard that statement loud and clear because within two years I wasn't digesting my food, I was living off of Tums, and there were times I would simply not eat just to avoid the pain. I tried self-practice once again, with a dream in my head of healing myself if I could just heal my mind. I wanted so badly to be someone that my body and my "food burdens" just wouldn't let me achieve. Intestinal pains grab you back to earth with a resounding thud, no matter how much you try to transcend.

I finally realized I had enough, and took gluten and dairy out of my diet. A month later I again tried this "yoga" that seemed to come so easily to others. But this time I realized something had changed. The moodiness, depression, and anger I always had started to recede and a clearer, quieter mind came through. Since I stopped eating foods my body couldn't digest, the inflammation I had all throughout my body calmed and I was more flexible, healed a lot faster, and could be still. I was able to finally breathe with my poses, not struggle for air.

While I still completely believe that the state of your mind and what you are ready for have an influence on what poses your body can achieve, I also know from my experience that inner inflammation has a large effect as well. It just so happens that many of the foods that are our favorites tend to be the ones that make us sick. Why? When you eat a food that makes your body ill, it releases endorphins (feel good hormones) to neutralize and offset the uncomfortable symptoms. Thus you equate this “high and happy” feeling with the food, producing an addiction.

If you find yourself hitting a wall in your practice, don’t always think the answer just lies in the confines of your mind. Try changing up your diet, or a cleanse, because food really does have almost everything to do with it.

And as for bunions, thanks to yoga and anti-inflammatory eating I no longer have that issue!

Part 2 will be discussing the foods to eat and the ones to avoid for getting the most out of your yoga practice. 

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